Senior third baseman Matt Duffy, instituting the team's aggressive base-running philosophy, has helped the Volunteers achieve their best season start since 2003.
One of the top shortstops and hitters in the Northeast coming out of high school, Duffy earned America East Player of the Year honors at Vermont before transferring in 2009 to join the Vols for the 2010 season. His arrival has given the team a step up in several areas, including, as one of five seniors, experience.
The Vols have started 5-1 this season. After finishing a three-game sweep against Canisius on Sunday, coach Todd Raleigh said the team has made minimal errors and he is impressed with Duffy's performance.
"Honestly, in six games we've made three errors, two by pitchers," Raleigh said. "The one yesterday was a freak play with Khayyan (Norfolk) on a line-drive double play. Our double plays were the difference today. Not only that, but Duffy made a couple plays today that were unbelievable."
The 225-pound player from Milton, Mass., went 3-for-3 at the plate, drew a walk, collected three RBIs and scored two runs. He also helped the team steal nine bases, a feat the Vols have not achieved since 2003.
Although the team has started a few games shakily, it has managed to come out with the win in most cases. Raleigh said that a big part of the Canisius win was the standout performance of freshman Carter Watson, but Duffy's experience has also been a factor.
"We dug ourselves a hole early on," Raleigh said. "It was kind of déjà vu of last Sunday, but we were able to cut it off a little bit."
The team faces a difficult slate between now and the end of the season, but with its promising start, the coaches and team are hopeful. Ash Lawson, assistant coach of infielders and recruiting, said the team is eager to improve, which should continue to provide an advantage during the season.
"The guys in the program have been very impressive to me," Lawson said. "Just their willingness to try new things and their desire to get better."
Duffy performed well against Canisius, which helped the team mark several high scores, a performance Raleigh said was exceptional.
"Other than the first inning, we had a tremendous weekend," Raleigh said. "We had at least four double plays and stole a lot of bases today. To me, that was the difference in the game."
Even with Duffy on the field, the Vols face another difficult weekend with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.